My third interview of three for Empire‘s 2014 horror week, since deleted from the Empire site so now re-posted in full here.
Unleashed in 1992, and based on a Clive Barker short story from a decade earlier, Candyman was a murdered slave, still haunting New Orleans as an urban legend come to life. Daniel Robitaille was a more ambiguous monster than many of his contemporaries, and made an immediate horror icon of Tony Todd, the character actor who put flesh on his bones. Todd has since become a mainstay of the Final Destination and Hatchet franchises, but for Empire’s horror week, he’s more than happy to reminisce about the role that made his name…
How did you land the role of Candyman?
I owe a great debt to two Englishmen: [producer/original author] Clive Barker and [screenwriter/director] Bernard Rose. Bernard had seen me in [TV movie] The Ivory Hunters (1990) and insisted when they came to casting Candyman that I was the right guy for it. I was just starting out. I’d done Platoon and the Night of the Living Dead remake, but I think the studio were nervous because Bernard didn’t even want to even audition anybody else. They were like ‘Are you sure? Maybe Sidney Poitier wants to do this movie!’ But he was completely loyal. The director’s the captain of the ship. If he wants something he should get the freedom to choose. Fortunately he chose me! I wasn’t expecting any kind of longevity from it: I’m just an actor for hire. But Bernard insisted that the movie would change my life. In a lot of ways it has, but the fortunate thing was that it didn’t define my life.
Do you sympathise with him?
We didn’t want to make him just some generic bogeyman. Bernard and I wanted to make sure he was steeped in a kind of gothic American racial history, especially as the story had been transposed from Liverpool to Cabrini Green. We mutually decided that he was an artist, and from that came the idea of the painting, and once we had that, we knew it was going to be Phantom of the Opera. Once I had all that, I knew how to make him human, in spite of the fact that he’s a ghost. Having grown up in America just as the civil rights movement started, I could completely relate to him.
What did you enjoy most about playing him?
I knew he was unique. Once I read about the bees – this was before CGI of course – I knew he would live infamously or not-so-infamously in cinematic history. The idea that they were coming out of this person just said to me that he was this powerful, demented force of nature. But I loved his elegance too. We wanted him to walk with pride.
Did you ever wear the costume off the set?
No, I never wore the coat out in public, but I do get to travel a lot based on this character and spread goodwill.
Any crazy fan encounters you can tell us about?
You get all sorts. I did a lot of Star Trek so I’ve encountered some pretty antisocial Klingons. But most recently I was down in Houston, Texas and this woman came up with this enormous grin on her face and said she had something to show me. So I braced myself, and she lifted her sundress and on the inside of her right thigh was a tattoo portrait of my face. Every now and then I need a reality check! I guess it would have been worse if it was on her bum. It’s a little weird. I don’t think I believe in putting people’s faces on your body. And she wasn’t the smallest woman: I just hope it doesn’t stretch over time!
What’s your favourite Candyman moment?
I love the parking lot sequence in the first film: the first time you see the character. I think it’s very well shot: very Hitchcockian.
What do you think explains his enduring popularity?
The weird thing is that he’s only actually on screen for ten or twelve minutes, but he’s talked about every single second of the film. Less is definitely more: he grows in the audience’s imagination. I also think there’s a lot of heart and soul to the first two films. Other, subsequent horror films may have been more financially successful, but they don’t have Candyman’s depth.
Will he return?
There have been attempts to do another one after the not-so-good third one, which was completely compromised from casting on down.
The problem is that three different people own it but they can’t come to an agreement, which seems incredible to me. Whenever an idea comes up, one of them won’t sign off on it. It’s unfortunate. I’ve just had to let it go.
What’s your favourite horror movie?
I was profoundly affected by Rosemary’s Baby. I love that film. There’s not a drop of blood in it; it’s purely psychological. I love films that are purely atmospheric like that. I love the old Universal movies too. Horror’s treated like the bastard stepchild of the movie industry, but it’s actually always been the genre that saved Hollywood from total ruin.
What scares you?
I don’t like that moment you get when you’re still sleeping but it feels like it’s real life and you can’t quite wake up. That few seconds is really frightening. Intolerance bothers me. And women with tattoos.